Soil is a key element of agricultural production. Soil organisms play a pivotal role in the careful and sustainable use of natural resources and in the improvement of production methods. There are still gaps in our knowledge on how soil organisms influence the most important soil ecosystem functions such as nutrient uptake, nutrient losses and carbon-sequestration capacity. There is still some uncertaintly as to how to make optimal use of soil life in order to create more sustainable agroecosystems.
The following main topics are investigated in this field of activity:
- How are useful soil microorganisms and soil ecosystem services influenced by different cropping systems and techniques (organic versus non-organic agriculture, plough versus conservation tillage, use of green manures)?
- What influence does the presence of a large variety of soil microorganisms (soil diversity) have on important soil ecosystem services such as yield, nutrient uptake, nutrient losses, and resistance to abiotic and biotic stress?
- Can the sustainability of agroecosystems be promoted by means of the deliberate strengthening of soil ecosystems (e.g. inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi or the altering of crop rotation sequences and cultivation methods)?
We focus on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and other plant-growth-promoting soil microorganisms. In future, nutrient scarcity will dramatically increase the importance of these microorganisms, since they help plants to absorb nutrients efficiently from the soil.
Our research results show farmers, advisers and decision-makers in the policy sector how soil diversity can be promoted and what benefits go hand-in-hand with greater soil biodiversity. Mycorrhizal fungi, for instance, can help plants absorb nutrients, thereby contributing to a more sparing use of natural resources. To make our agriculture more sustainable and efficient, we urgently need knowledge about the functioning of soil ecosystems. Thus, we investigate how the diversity of beneficial soil microbes can be used in agricultural systems.